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June 05, 2008

New TomDispatch

TomDispatch is excerpting this from Chris Hedges' new book:

Collateral Damage
What It Really Means When America Goes to War

By Chris Hedges

Troops, when they battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are placed in "atrocity producing situations." Being surrounded by a hostile population makes simple acts, such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke, dangerous. The fear and stress push troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find. The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed, over time, to innocent civilians who are seen to support the insurgents.

Civilians and combatants, in the eyes of the beleaguered troops, merge into one entity. These civilians, who rarely interact with soldiers or Marines, are to most of the occupation troops in Iraq nameless, faceless, and easily turned into abstractions of hate. They are dismissed as less than human. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing -- the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm -- to murder -- the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you.

The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing. The savagery and brutality of the occupation is tearing apart those who have been deployed to Iraq. As news reports have just informed us, 115 American soldiers committed suicide in 2007. This is a 13% increase in suicides over 2006. And the suicides, as they did in the Vietnam War years, will only rise as distraught veterans come home, unwrap the self-protective layers of cotton wool that keep them from feeling, and face the awful reality of what they did to innocents in Iraq.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 5, 2008 08:19 AM

Yeah, Ed Luttwak recently, foolishly tried to make the case that the only way for us to successfully deal with an insurgency is the way the Nazis and Romans did. As it stands, increased attention to force protection results in a proportionate rise in collateral damage. An actively hostile enemy embedded in a passively hostile population is the worst of all possible worlds, one from which we need, urgently, to extract ourselves.

Posted by: Ralph Hitchens at June 5, 2008 01:15 PM

GEORGE AND/OR DICK have come to realize that the Iraqis ain't gonna sign over that OIL until every last one is dead.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 5, 2008 02:23 PM

I wonder how much awareness of this reality about the occupation -- acknowledged or not -- has contributed to the apparent unwillingness to hold accountable any but one or two of the perpetrators and cover-upperers of the Haditha massacre.

It's going to come down to Lt. Wuterich and Lt. Col. Gen. Chessani, and not looking particularly likely that either of them will be convicted, either.

Posted by: Nell at June 5, 2008 03:22 PM

Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, Mearsheimer and Walt (2002:1-2) examined the various arguments for invading Iraq and removing Saddam: He was a “cruel despot....defied numerous UN resolutions...harbored terrorist organizations...” And of course, there was always the illustrious argument that “a successful war might trigger a wave of democratic reforms in the Arab world.” The authors concluded that none of these arguments offered sufficient justification for removing Saddam. There was one argument, however; one “trump card” in the hand of the preventive war camp: Saddam could not be contained. He was too reckless; Too unpredictable. But Mearsheimer and Walt disagreed with this contention as well. They claimed the argument was based on “distorted history and dubious logic.” For those who compared Saddam to Hitler, the authors point out that in the thirty years Saddam had been in power, he initiated two wars (invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990). Hitler, on the other hand, “attacked Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and France in 1940, and Greece, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union in 1941.” (Not to mention that Hitler also declared war on the US in 1941). To those who compared Saddam to other of his contemporaries in the region, the authors note that Egypt started four wars and partook in six between 1948 and 1973; and Israel provoked three wars and has issued countless air strikes and military interventions against neighboring Arab states in its brief modern history. So why the great fear that Saddam could not have been contained? The authors’ conclusion in November 2002? Saddam can be contained. “There is no good reason to attack Iraq at this time.”

Posted by: John Maszka at June 10, 2008 11:53 AM

John D. Rockefeller, the Vice-Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence (2006: 7) reveals the committee’s concerns regarding “the disturbing pattern by the Administration of selectively releasing or declassifying intelligence that supported the case to go to war, while dismissing or downplaying or simply not acknowledging intelligence that” did not.
Opponents of the war across the board have been arguing that simply invading a country, fighting insurgents and holding elections is not enough. Even if the US were able to effectively achieve stability in Iraq, it would still have to face “the distinction between freedom as a long-range moral and strategic goal and democracy as a short-term political tactic.” Furthermore, critics complain that the Bush administration is missing the obvious point that, in a country such as Iraq, elections are rarely “democratic.” And when elections are free and fair, more often than not, in a country like Iraq you end up with “a government with a plurality or even a majority of Islamist extremists... In profoundly illiberal societies, elections are actually a danger to freedom and representative government” (Holmes, 2007:26).
Others cynically point out that, far from providing the US with a new ally in the war on terror, “the U.S. invasion of Iraq increased the worldwide threat of terrorism many times over. Even moderates are angry about the invasion and postinvasion developments” (Gunaratna, 2006:130). “Meanwhile, Iraqis have less electricity, clean water, sewage treatment and oil than before the war. Iraq’s government ministries are barely functional. Iraq looks closer to a failing state than an emerging democracy” (Biden, 2006:36).

Posted by: John Maszka at June 10, 2008 11:54 AM